The wrong directionNorth Korea has amended its Workers’ Party rules and proclaimed it will continue reinforcing its military power. In the 8th Congress of the Workers’ Party, the first in five years, the country expanded the concept of its strengthening of war deterrence to defend itself and linked it to its ultimate goal of reunification of the two Koreas. The announcement explicitly shows what goals the state will try to achieve in the future.
Without doubt, the military power referred to in the proclamation means nuclear armaments. In a briefing held shortly before the revision of the party rules, North Korea made official the development of strategic missiles with multiple warheads, a nuclear-powered submarine and ultra-supersonic weapons. It did not mention anything about denuclearization. We cannot but express our disappointment and concerns about the dangerous path North Korea seeks to take in defiance of the South-North summit in Pyongyang and the U.S.-North summits in Singapore and Hanoi.
Earlier, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un accepted his failures to accomplish goals in the five-year strategic plan to develop the economy. His confession of a botched attempt to achieve the “strategic goals of national development” before such an important political event translates into an admission of a serious economic crisis sweeping in the country.
But Kim is pursuing the wrong solution. North Korea’s economic hardships originate with international sanctions and are deepened by natural disasters such as recent floods and the Covid-19 pandemic. They cannot be overcome if it sticks with nuclear development. Kim’s strategy to ease sanctions with nuclear weapons simply does not work, as proven in the failed Hanoi summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.
The North Korean leadership must recognize that such a hard-line approach cannot work with a new U.S. administration either. If North Korea really wants to develop its economy, it must change course. North Korea must stop its unrealistic branding of the United States as its “biggest enemy.”
Meanwhile, the Moon Jae-in administration must change its North Korea policy in tune with the new Joe Biden administration. North Korea said, “Inter-Korean relations have returned to the pre-Panmunjom Declaration period,” repeatedly dismissing Moon’s proposals for quarantine cooperation and individual tours to the North as just “nonessential issues” and demanding a suspension of South Korea-U.S. military drills. The Moon administration must focus on drawing an agreement on denuclearization and triggering changes in the country across the border in line with the international community.